La Plata dolphins, native to Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil, are one of the smallest species of dolphins in the world. Not only do they have to contend with their natural predators of killer whales and sharks, but the deadliest of predator mammals of all: tourists.
Local media was abuzz yesterday with news that a La Plata dolphin died over the weekend after being removed from the water by a group of excited tourists in the beach town of Santa Teresita, Buenos Aires Province. A second La Plata dolphin was removed but survived the ordeal. Although the dolphins were returned to their obvious place of residence (hint: the water) one died from dehydration of its greasy coat.
And so the shame campaign began: Wildlife, a Buenos Aires-based nature conservation organization, yesterday launched a Twitter drive to raise awareness for the plight of La Plata dolphins. They are encouraging beach-goers to hastily return dolphins to the water if they are found ashore. You can help out by retweeting. And by not being an asshole who manhandles dolphins.
La Plata dolphins, also known as Franciscanas after the Catholic order of monks, measure between 1.3 and 1.7 meters. They are ranked as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. They are only found in Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil and likely number less than 30,000. This death puts the species one dolphin closer to “endangered” status, which carries a high risk of extinction in the wild.
Scientists are particularly concerned about the La Plata dolphin due to its limited range and its natural curiosity. You heard it here first. Curiosity killed the dolphin. Okay, fine. Dumb tourists killed the dolphin.
Back in 2011, the director of NGO SOS Rescue Marine Wildlife removed an orphaned Franciscana from the water, but it too succumbed to a stress-related death. So don’t even try to rescue one of these cuties unless you’ve got the resume to back it. And even then there’s no guarantee of success.
The Franciscan Order could not be reached for comment.